2019 is the 70th anniversary of the legislation that created the first National Parks in the UK. At this crucial moment for the future of our countryside, Tom Heap asks how our best-loved landscapes can work better for people and wildlife. There are now 15 National Parks – all are protected areas because of their beautiful countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage. However, much has changed since the original legislation and many of these landscapes face significant challenges, including declining wildlife, a need for housing and poor public access. Tom visits two very different parks, the Cairngorms and the South Downs, to ask communities how they think National Parks should be improved to meet the needs of the 21st century. He considers some of the key issues; such as how to balance agriculture with enhancing and connecting habitats and how to deliver rural development and housing in protected landscapes.
Producer: Sophie Anton
Heat from the Deep
The heat contained in the top 3km of the Earth’s crust could power the planet thousands of times over. Despite that, less than 1% of the world’s electricity comes from geothermal energy. That may be about to change.
Near Redruth in Cornwall a 3 mile deep hole is being dug- it will be the deepest in the UK. Cold water will be pumped down to the 200 degrees hot rocks below, the hot water returning will drive turbines to provide electricity for thousands of homes. Nearby, the Eden Project and the seawater lido in Penzance are building their own geothermal plants.
But Cornwall is just the tip of the iceberg. Geothermal electricity was first produced in 1904 at Larderello in Tuscany. Today Enel Green Power supply a third of the region's electricity from natural steam and they have plans to get much bigger, exploiting an extraordinary bit of chemistry. When water goes above 374 degrees centigrade and 221 bars of pressure it becomes a supercritical fluid. This contains five times as much energy as 200 degree water, transfers energy twice as efficiently and has a lower viscosity. Overall, you can theoretically get ten times more energy than from a similar conventional borehole.
The new technology also promises more efficient geothermal energy in regions far away from geological hot spots like Iceland and Italy. The only fly in the ointment is that some techniques involve creating bigger fractures in the rocks. Experiments at Basel in Switzerland provoked an earthquake. So can the incredible potential of new-gen geothermal be exploited without provoking protests?
Producer: Alasdair Cross
Art and the Environment
Climate change is hard to depict. Polar bears on melting ice caps are far away from everyday life and the data is often complex and confusing. So could art in its broadest sense help us to understand the implications of global warming and environmental degradation? Tom Heap takes a look at how the creative community is responding to what is arguably the biggest threat of our time and asks if art can succeed in eliciting a response where science has failed.
Music and visual arts which make climate data sets tangible, clothing which make pollutants visible and artists who make their creative response a form of protest. These are just a few of the ways in which artists are responding to environmental issues but it remains to be seen if these visions can impact our collective beliefs and behaviours.
March of the Wet Wipes
Over the last decade, wet wipes have become ubiquitous. There's a wipe for almost everything, from faces to furniture, and it's a multi-million pound industry. But our sewerage systems are paying the price. Tom Heap goes on a call-out with the teams whose job is unblocking the drains - and finds that the culprits are usually wet wipes. It doesn't stop with the sewers: wipes can now be found in their millions on our beaches and in our rivers - where they are affecting wildlife, and in some cases even changing the shape of the riverbed itself. Water companies say that nothing but pee, poo and paper should be flushed down the toilet. Many wipes are labelled "do not flush" - but Tom talks to experts who cast doubt over whether even the ones marked "flushable" really are.
Producer: Emma Campbell
What have wetlands ever done for us? Apart from providing fresh water, carbon storage, flood mitigation, wildlife habitat and much more....they are said to be critical to human and planetary life. But a recent report claims despite this these ecosystems are disappearing three times faster than forests. Around 35% of the worlds wetlands were lost between 1970 and 2015 - but the UK lost most of its before then. So why don't we care? Are a 'bunch of bogs and ditches' less valued than a romantic forest?
Tom Heap finds out what wetlands are and what they do for us and if policy makers and decision-makers need to value them more highly, should we too? The positive news is wetlands can be created and improved - both on a large scale and in our own gardens and neighbourhoods. Is it time to make some noise for the wonders of wetlands?
Produced by Anne-Marie Bullock